title is blunt. This is the second volume of a Player Piano
series and is devoted entirely to Chopin. As for the question
of “famous pianists”, well, yes and no. I doubt anyone but
a pianophile will have encountered Mieczyslaw Münz, Alfred
Reisenauer or Alfred Mirovitch and whilst more will know
that Leo Ornstein was a pianist not many will know that he
recorded rolls. And as for 1900, well, again, not quite.
Helpfully the long-lived Münz was born in 1900 – though even
he wasn’t recording on rolls until some time before 1923.
His even longer-lived contemporary Ornstein’s rolls were
published between 1916 and 1924. That leaves d’Albert, Glasgow-born
scourge of all things British, Rosenthal, Levitzki and Godowsky.
Perhaps it’s fairer then to say that we have here four magnificent
specimens of their breed and four rather lesser ones.
ones perhaps but certainly not without interest. It’s a shame
that we are limited to a single roll each from Münz and Reisenauer.
The latter died young at forty-four in 1907 but this roll
of the Bolero was made for Hupfeld and is here transferred
via the Ampico system. A marker can be put down for the roll
fanatics, if there are any. Levitzki’s disc recording of
the Etude Op.10 No.5 was made for American Columbia in 1923.
This roll was published in 1920. Levitzki was born in 1898
so it’s likely the roll was made around the end of the War – say
1919. Leaving aside the somewhat wearying treble sonority
of the roll transfer – a touch jangly and over-bright - we
hear distinct differences. The tempo is basically the same
but the sound-world on the late acoustic is so much more
alive, the rhythm infinitely more convincing, left hand accents
integrated and not deposited crudely courtesy of the roll
such palpable and in many cases inflexible limitations we
can still conjecture on the nature of the stylistic playing
and mannerisms of the pianists. Some of course made contemporaneous
disc recordings of Chopin, as did Levitzki. Busoni’s rhythm
is decidedly choppy in his Ballade performance; the rhetorical
pauses and lack of true legato owing much to the system under
which he laboured. Capricious rubati also stalk the d’Albert.
Godowsky’s unevenness in the studio, whichever kind, does
make itself apparent from time to time, whilst Ornstein digs
in with aplomb if occasionally ponderous aplomb.
we have potted biographies of each musician. You’d think
this would be standard by now but you’d be wrong. With the
caveats as noted above, including the 1927 Bösendorfer, it’s
really only specialists who might like to engage with this
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